Who would have thought that Google Earth would provide a temporary solution to imagining a foreign landscape in medieval times? I’m all in favour of using the Internet for research, but I didn’t expect to find answers with this great tool.
I’ve been stuck in my writing for a few weeks, now. There are a few issues about my novel I’ve been trying to sort out — narrator’s voice, plot, time and historical setting. With respect to the latter, I received a great suggestion from Tom Nocera via Twitter about using the Family Forest Project to mine for historical detail in medieval France. I hope to look further into this, soon. But I recently stumbled on a feature of Google Earth that has been an enormous help: using “Directions” in conjunction with the “Play Tour” function.
Here’s how it works: enter your start location and destination in the Search window and let Google Earth plot your route using the current highways and roads. The route appears as a purple line on the satellite view, and the step-by-step directions appear in a window in the search panel. Nothing special there, but click the small “Play” button at the bottom of the search panel and magic happens! Google Earth swoops in on the start location and begins flying you along the route, as if you are in a small Cessna. You move along the roads, hovering above the purple line, and can see the countryside/cities drifting past: over rivers, past fields, through cities, off the exit ramps until you land gently at your destination. Along the way, you can stop and open the pictures that users have posted on Panoramio, then resume your travel along the route. Very cool, and an invaluable distraction for a novelist struggling with writer’s block! (Click on the photo above to get a larger view)
I am still planing a trip to England to scope out my settings, but this Google Earth feature is the next best thing! In the novel, my escapee monk has set out from his monastery in southeast England to travel to St. Albans, just north of London. While the Google Earth view of this journey uses modern roads and highways, I at least have rough means of imagining the landscape as might have been in the Middle Ages.
Brother Richard says he has never heard these words, google and panoramio and such. “Brother!” I say. “For someone who’s life is in grave danger, such wondering and idle thoughts are most inappropriate to the situation at hand!”